There are many purposes of meditation, both spiritual and worldly, and it is believed to help increase relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness and enhance overall well being. The use of meditation in alternative medicine and to improve mindfulness is discussed in more detail below.
Meditation in Alternative Medical Therapy
It is often recommended as an alternative treatment method for various health conditions, and there is some research to support its use with benefits documented.
- Hypertension: scientific research suggests that transcendental meditation can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Psychological conditions: meditation may help to improve anxiety, depression, distress and issues of anger.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): studies have suggested that techniques of mindfulness and meditation can reduce the severity of symptoms of IBS to a small degree.
- Ulcerative Colitis: meditation may be able to help individuals with moderate disease in remission to reduce stress and the number of resulting flare-ups.
- Insomnia: some individuals may find that practicing meditation helps them to sleep regularly and reduce the effects of insomnia.
In addition to helping in the treatment of some health conditions, meditative practices can be used to aid smokers to quit. There have been some scientific studies to investigate the efficacy of this with varying results. Some research has shown that meditation can help to reduce cravings and improve relaxation when quitting, but there is insufficient research to claim that it should routinely be used.
Programs that advocate mindfulness have gained popularity in recent decades and become more important within Western culture. This extends both to the medical and psychological fields and is seen to be beneficial for all individuals, sick or healthy.
The founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “moment to moment non-judgemental awareness.” Individuals are encouraged to reserve time each day to practice a variety of techniques of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness can also occur throughout daily activities, increasing the awareness of being, such as recognizing and appreciating the senses around us (e.g. certain smells or taste of foods).
The benefits of mindfulness meditation have been established in scientific research, which demonstrated benefits of increased healing ability and improved feelings of contentment, with a reduction in anxiety and depression. There have also been some changes in the function of the brain observed, such as a tendency to use the right rather than the left prefrontal cortex.
The Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation program was developed early in the 20th century and involves the sequential tensing and relaxing of certain muscle groups. Throughout the process, the mind is concentrated on the feel of the muscles. This practice has helped to improve extreme anxiety in some individuals.
Also known as Sahaja yoga meditation, mental silence meditation can alter the activity of the brain and improve overall well being. The technique involves switching off some networks of the brain to focus attention towards particular information. Individuals that practice Sahaja meditation have been observed to score higher for emotional wellbeing than general members of the population.